by Aiden Eksteen
Every luxury automaker builds an SUV, but Mercedes arguably pioneered the segment long before it became such a dominant corner of the market and the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class SUV is at the very top of the pile when it comes to the Mercedes hierarchy. The S-Class of SUVs is what Mercedes touts this model as, packing a slew of technological advancements into a three-row large luxury SUV. Power is available in two standard flavors - a 3.0-liter inline-six with turbocharging worth 362 horsepower, or a version of the ubiquitous 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 with 483 hp, both with the brand's EQ Boost hybridization. The brand's 4MATIC AWD system is standard, as is a buttery-smooth nine-speed automatic. Up against the BMW X7, Land Rover Discovery, and to a certain degree, full-size truck-based SUVs in the US like the Cadillac Escalade and Lincoln Navigator, the GLS-Class brings a touch of European sophistication to a family-sized package. But is it deserving of the "S-Class of SUVs" designation? Perhaps not, as it lacks the polish of the S-Class Sedan where it matters most.
Newly introduced for the 2020 model year, Mercedes has seen fit to improve the 2021 GLS-Class in a number of ways. On even the entry-level GLS 450 4MATIC, you'll now find ventilated front seats, quad-zone climate control, and 20-inch alloy wheels. Parking damage detection and a new alarm system feature across all models, and the optional features list has been revised to include power rear side-window sunshades as a standalone item on the base model, the Driver Assistance Package Plus on both derivatives, and a spate of new upholstery options. AMG and Maybach variants have been added to the lineup, but both are reviewed separately.
See trim levels and configurations:
NHTSA safety ratings are not available at this time.
Available as a 6-seater or 7-seater, versatility is the name of the game for the 3-row Mercedes GLS-Class SUV. Both powertrains are gloriously smooth, and the fact that they're found in a plethora of other Mercedes models bodes well for the SUV's reliability rating as a whole. While no safety rating is available from an American agency, this third-generation GLS-Class (including its time as the GL-CLass before being renamed in 2016) comes with the latest semi-autonomous driving capabilities and a range of passive safety systems to keep you out of incidents and protected in case one does occur. But for its size, the third row disappointed with a lack of legroom, and the compromise made in having such a large vehicle is felt when driving over uneven roads, where the body flexes and the dash creaks excessively, robbing it of a little bit of the luxury it aims to achieve. This is no off-roader, but it's also not a real S-Class in the way it drives. Still, as something more wieldy than a full-size American SUV, it's a viable alternative. For its price, the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class SUV isn't quite a new Escalade, but not everyone wants that larger-than-life behemoth.
Both available trims are similarly specced, with the primary differentiator being wha's under the hood. The smooth straight-six has repeatedly won over CarBuzz testers in any review scenario of the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class and its stablemates, and with added luxury like ventilated front seats and quad-zone climate for 2021 (five-zone in the GLS 580), it no longer feels cut-rate compared to the GLS 580. However, there's no denying the smoothness and the aural delight that is Mercedes' V8 engine. With EQ Boost assistance, there exists not a patch of lag nor dearth of power in any scenario. Plus, there are bragging rights. Regardless of which you choose, the dual 12.3-inch MBUX screens, Burmester sound system, 9 USB ports, LED headlights, surround-view camera, active park assist, keyless entry and start, ambient lighting and more are all standard. The 580 gets 21-inch alloys instead of the 450's 20-inch items, but the difference in ride quality can easily be smoothed out by the available E-Active Body Control system (highly recommended). We'd also spec second-row captain's chairs so that all six occupants can enjoy the space and ease of access a little more. With the 580 starting at $98,850, it's a lot of money, but worth it.
The most popular competitors of 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class SUV: